I hope you are learning a lot of new things and enjoying our current sermon series. We are now about ⅓ of the way through our in-depth study of Hebrews. Though we have already uncovered and analyzed several valuable principles in this book, there are still many left to discover. The message today is titled “A Better Understanding”. We will be looking closely at Hebrews 5:11-14.
In the first half of this chapter, which we discussed last week, the writer introduced what is perhaps the main teaching of his letter to the Hebrews. He argued that Jesus even greater than Aaron. Jesus is our Perfect High Priest. In the coming chapters he will present and explain several concepts that support this conclusion. But before he begins to make his compelling case for the superiority of Christ, the writer pauses to address the Hebrews directly.
Before heading out on a long drive across the country a person should take a few moments to check the condition of their vehicle. They should inspect their tires to make sure that they are properly inflated and not too worn. They should check the level of their fluids, and even change the oil if necessary. They might even assess their lights, windshield wipers, and other such things to make sure the car is completely ready to go. It is wise to make an evaluation of your vehicle before starting your tip, and it can potentially save you from a lot of problems.
This is somewhat comparable to what we see in today’s message. Before he begins to emphasize the major points of his letter, the writer briefly turns his attention to its recipients. Are they ready to hear and receive the truths that are forthcoming? Will these teachings be overly complicated for them or will they be able to grasp and understand what is being taught? Are they prepared for what lies ahead? What type of spiritual condition are they in?
I. DULL OF HEARING (v11)
The focus of the coming chapters will be on Jesus as the Great High Priest. This is indicated by the opening phrase “Concerning Him we have much to say”. Chapters 7-10 will highlight several topics related to the high priest, the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the sanctuary. In these chapters he will present and thorough, systematic, and eye-opening explanation of why “Jesus is Better”.
However, from the very outset he warns that these things will be “hard to explain”. Generally things are hard to explain for one of two reasons. Either the topic itself is extremely complex and difficult for anyone to understand, or the learners have certain deficits that prevent them from grasping what should otherwise be easily comprehended. For example, non-English speaking students might struggle in certain academic classes because they are not familiar with the language being used - not because the questions are too difficult.
Unfortunately, many of the Hebrew Christians had become “dull of hearing”. This doesn’t mean that they were spiritually deaf or incapable of hearing and understanding God’s word. The word “dull” used here in this verse comes from the Greek term “nothros”. It literally means sluggish or slothful. The writer is telling his readers that they had become spiritually lazy. Their lack of discipline and commitment to the teachings of God had limited their knowledge base and hampered their understanding. Because of this ignorance, the things that he intends to teach will be more difficult for them to understand.
II. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES (v12)
The Hebrew believers to whom this letter was written had been saved for a while. They weren’t brand new Christians. They had been followers of Christ for a fairly long period of time, perhaps several years. As such, the writer expressed that by now they “ought to be teachers”. It is certainly reasonable for someone who has been recently saved to lack a comprehensive understanding of the Bible, but for those who have been long-time Christians such ignorance is highly discouraging.
Every field of study has basic, foundational elements. In order to form words one must first understand letters. In order to make sentences one must first understand words. In order to do basic mathematical operations one must first know the digits. In order to make longer and harder calculations one must master their basic math facts. The same is true spiritually. While the “elementary principles of the oracles of God” are the starting point upon which everything else is built, there are more complex truths that Christians should learn.
The writer of Hebrews was clearly disheartened by the spiritual illiteracy of his audience. Though this would not prevent him from presenting his lesson, he was obviously concerned that many would not grasp what was being taught. Sadly, this same ineptness rampant in churches today. Many who have been Christians all their lives still lack confidence in their knowledge of Scriptures and feel intellectually unable to teach others. While in a few cases there may be a valid reason for this, the overwhelming majority of the time there isn’t.
III. MILK OR MEAT (v13-14)
In the closing line of verse 12 the writer states that his Hebrew readers have come to “need milk and not solid food”. In the King James translation of the Bible this solid food is called meat. Spiritually speaking, the one who “partakes only of milk...” “...is an infant.” This has nothing to do with their actual age, but rather their understanding of and obedience to God’s Word. It is an issue of spiritual maturity.
Those who remain spiritually immature are “not accustomed to the word of righteous”. They lack an intimate familiarity with the principles and precepts contained in the Bible. Many have never even read the Scriptures. Others have casually looked at them or heard them being spoken, but have failed to take them seriously. As a result, they find it challenging to learn more complex doctrinal concepts because they have never really studied God’s Word for themselves.
“But... the mature…” “...have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” This ability comes from and is refined by “practice”. It isn’t automatic to the new believer. Maturity is not a spiritual gift that can be received in its entirety. Rather it must be developed over time. Spiritual growth is the result of ongoing discipleship. Like a daily exercise regimen, it takes commitment and follow-through. It involves obedience to and faithful application of God’s Word in one’s life.
Unfortunately many people have no idea what the Bible says. Others may know some of the basics, but not much else. Still others may have a pretty good head knowledge of Scripture, but don’t truly practice a lot of it. In each of these cases, the person being described is and will remain spiritually immature. They are still infants who constantly need to be retaught the elementary principles of God’s Word.
There is a scene near the end of the movie “A Few Good Men” in which Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Nathan Jessup, shouts from the witness stand “You can’t handle the truth!”. It is an iconic line in American movie history. He is accusing the military lawyer questioning him, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffe who is being played by Tom Cruise, of not having the depth, capacity, and/or experience to understand the realities of war. In a more compassionate sense, this is pretty much what the writer of Hebrews is saying..
Spiritually speaking, there are far too many Christians today like these early Hebrew believers who can’t handle the deeper truths of God’s Word because they have never really grown in it. They have no real grounding. But Jesus desires to foster within us a better understanding of His teachings and ways. Through disciplined training and obedient practice we can mature in our wisdom of and walk with the Lord. When, if ever, will we grow tired of eating baby food and move on to the steak and potatoes?